Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading

I work frequently with families who have questions about their children’s reading development and how they can support their child with reading.  It is important to me to help give answers to parents whether I am just providing general information or working with individual families to examine their children’s reading development.  Two questions I hear often are:

  1. What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is hearing and identifying sounds in our language and knowing that words are made of sounds and syllables.  While phonemic awareness is not letter-knowledge, it helps us know and hear sound similarities and differences that are represented in written words.  It helps us get ready for reading and mapping sounds to letters and visual symbols.  If we can hear and discriminate similarities and differences between language sounds and hear the individual sounds in spoken language, then we have an easier time learning that letters represent certain sounds in our written word.

Examples of phonemic awareness:

  • hearing that SUN starts with a similar sound as SAND
  • hearing the three separate sounds in SUN: S-U-N
  • hearing that FUN and SUN rhyme or end with the same sounds

All of these examples have to do with hearing sounds, not reading the words.

2. How do I help my child develop this skill?

Research indicates that phonemic awareness can be taught and that learning these skills (at any age) helps with learning to read (and reading also helps these skills develop).  Here are three fun and easy games that you can play to help your child hear sounds in our language.  Just play them for a few minutes each time.  Keep them fun and easy.  You can do these games anywhere – at the dinner table, in the car, or walking over to a friend’s house.

A. Rhyming:

Have fun playing rhyming games.  Ask your child to rhyme with words you give them (make it easy when you start).  Your child can even make up words to rhyme.  “What rhymes with SKY? Fly! My! Ty! Zy! Ny!”  Don’t forget to demonstrate first.  Have your child give you a word and you provide a rhyme.  You can support hearing rhymes by reading rhyming books to your child and commenting about the rhymes you hear when you read.

B. Sound detective:

Ask your child if two words sound the same at the start of the words.  “Let’s play detective.  Do SUN and SAND start with the same sound? SSSSSun, SSSSSand?  What about SUN and MAPSSSSSun, MMMMMap?”  Don’t forget to demonstrate first!  After your child is hearing sound similarities and differences at the beginning of words, you can ask them about the end of the words like TOP and DROP, or TOP and TIP.  You can even move to sound blends like DROP and DRIVE or FREEZE and FRAME.  Point out any sound similarities when reading together or even just in conversation.

C. Guess my word:

You can play a word game where you say individual sounds in words and your child has to guess what the word is.  Your child may need time to learn this skill.  An example is: “Guess my word – S – U – N.  SUN!”  Say the isolated sounds, not the letters.  Keep the words small and pause just slightly between saying each sound.


You can find children’s books that support phonemic awareness at:





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